Iran says missiles strike its oil tanker off Saudi Arabia
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Friday two missiles struck one of its oil tankers traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia, a mysterious assault not immediately corroborated that still spiked oil prices amid months of heightened tensions at sea across the wider Mideast.
There was no acknowledgement of the incident from Saudi Arabia, which in September had more than half of its daily crude oil production knocked out by an assault the U.S. blamed on Iran, something denied by Tehran.
All the attacks came after President Donald Trump's decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers and impose crushing sanctions targeting Iran's crude oil sales and shipments. Iranian officials warned for weeks that if they couldn't sell their oil, neither would anyone else in the region.
"This latest incident, if confirmed to be an act of aggression, is highly likely to be part of the wider narrative of deteriorating relations between Saudi and the U.S. and Iran," private maritime security firm Dryad Maritime warned.
"It is likely that the region ... will face another period of increasing maritime threats, as the Iranian and Saudi geopolitical stand-off continues," it added.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. will send fighter jets and additional air defenses to the Saudis to help defend the kingdom against Iran amid the heightened tensions. He called Saudi Arabia a longstanding security partner in the region.
The attack reportedly took place around 5 a.m. and damaged two storerooms aboard the oil tanker Sabiti, state media reported. It also briefly caused an oil leak into the Red Sea near the Saudi port city of Jiddah that later was stopped, state-run IRNA news agency reported.
The Sabiti turned on its tracking devices late Friday morning in the Red Sea, putting its location some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Jiddah, according to data from MarineTraffic.com. The ship is carrying some 1 million barrels of crude oil, according to an analysis from data firm Refinitiv.
The Sabiti last turned on its tracking devices in August near the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Iranian tankers routinely turn off their trackers as U.S. sanctions target the sale of Iran's crude oil.
Images released by Iran's Petroleum Ministry appeared to show no damage to the Sabiti visible from its bridge, though they did not show the ship's sides. Satellite images of the area showed no visible smoke.
The ministry's SHANA news agency said no ship nor any authority in the area responded to its distress messages.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi described the incident Friday as an "attack" carried out by those committing "dangerous adventurism." In a statement, Mousavi said the Sabiti was struck twice in the span of a half hour and an investigation was underway.
Iranian authorities did not say who they suspected of launching the missiles, suggesting officials were waiting to assess the incident while waiting for a visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday.
Khan met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. He also met him on an April visit to Tehran. Khan has been seeking to serve as a go-between for Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Lt. Pete Pagano, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet overseeing the Mideast, said authorities there were "aware of reports of this incident," but declined to comment further.